Friday 29 August 2008

Because sometimes you just have to do things you don't want to do.

TGIF. Why do I care that it's Friday? Well for starters, it means a pizza take away and a bottle of wine this evening. And it means having my husband around for two whole days to help me with the beastie boys. And I do need help as I'm still not operating on full sleep quota following our holiday, which was meant to leave me feeling refreshed and revived but has in fact done the opposite.

This morning wasn't good. Having not been to nursery for two weeks, the boys weren't particularly keen on returning. They let me know this by refusing to get dressed. I finally cajoled the older one to get into his clothes as he'd get to wear his new Lightning McQueen shoes. But the younger one was not going to remove his PJs for anything. So I did what all parents short on patience do, and put him in the car with his pyjamas on. This resulted in a small boy with luminous skeleton pyjamas scream and writhe so much that it looked like he had actually wriggled out of his skin.

I had to body wrestle the older one into his seat, which I only managed once I'd threatened to drive off without him (not my finest parenting moment but you gotta do what you gotta do sometimes). They both howled all the way there and clung to my legs like limpets as I stumbled my way into the nursery trying to remain calm and unflappable. In the end it took two staff members to peel their claws out of my legs. I waved goodbye and bolted. Then I sat in the car and cried.

Upon returning home, I found the front door wide open. Being a paranoid South African I immediately assumed that I was being burgled. Turned out that my pre-occupation with trying to herd two screaming beasties into the car had robbed me of all brain power, resulting in me leaving the house not just unlocked by wide open.

I had two cups of coffee in quick succession, a chocolate muffin and took several deep breathes. And I commenced my day....

It's now pick up time. I suspect that the little one will have had a whale of a time. I expect the older one will have too. But he won't let me forget that I just abandoned him this morning and will say things like: 'You just left us mummy. We didn't want to go there.' This used to wrack me with guilt. No it only semi-wracks me. As I told him this morning, sometimes we all have to do things we don't want to do. And going to nursery so mummy can work is one of them (they only go two days a week, it's not like I'm abandoning them completely). And, thinking quietly to myself, next week going to be big school will be another. And this weekend, daddy looking after both of you while I get some retail therapy will be something he doesn't particularly relish, but there you go.

So another bad mother day to put up on my sticker chart. Sigh

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Holidays with children. How not to relax.

'A change is as good as a holiday' they say. And in theory, my holiday was a change. I was in France, rather than England (although it still rained). I ate ten times the amount of bread and cheese I normally consume. I had fabulous adult company every evening. And I had no access to TV or the internet. But really, that's where the differences end (and I'm not convinced that last point is a good thing).

You see, a holiday with children is something of an oxymoron. Holiday = relaxing. Children = not.
Think back to the BC years (Before Children). Holidays meant flinging a bikini in a bag with a couple of sarongs and a pair of flip flops. You'd jet off somewhere hot and exotic that inevitably had palm trees, sunloungers and frozen strawberry daiquiris. You'd roll out of bed at some point before lunch, spend the rest of the day horizontal reading chicklit while working on a tan, possibly doing the occasional bit of exercise or sightseeing, with lots of eating, drinking and generally RELAXING.

Fast forward to the AC years. As mentioned in my last blog post, the packing alone is enough to make you want to cancel the trip and stay home. But then there's the journey. Gone are the days of lovely gins and tonics on board a flight while you listen to your iPod in peace. Instead you're in a car so that you can cart half of Britain with you. As the mother (and this inevitably means you're not the driver) you spend most of the journey swivelled in your chair facing the backseat so that you can:

  • catch vomit in carsick bags

  • wipe up vomit

  • break up fights because someone has put their hand on someone else's side of the seat

  • pick up toys that have been dropped into the most inconvenient place that require elastigirl arms to reach them

  • hand out snacks on an ongoing basis

  • receive the half chewed remants of snacks, wrappers, banana skins, apple cores and find a place to stow them all

  • play eye spy ad nauseum with children who don't actually spy the item in question and tell you that it starts with a letter which it doesn't and isn't the correct colour they claim it to be. And then get cross when you can't guess what it is.

You arrive at your destination with a crick in your neck, a good dose of car sickness yourself thanks to constantly facing backwards, and a vile mood.

Your destination is self catering. It has to be with kids. You need the washing machine, dishwashing and snack making facilities on call 24/7 - something no hotel can supply, not without having to remortgage your house. For about five minutes you embrace your inner little girl as you get to 'play house house', unpacking your supplies and figuring out who is going to sleep where. But that novelty wears off pretty fast.

And thus commences the holiday, filled with the promise of exciting thing to do - like canoeing, go-karting, seeing caves, fishing, sightseeing, going for walks, visiting markets and attempting to speak French - badly. I'm not such a killjoy as to claim that none of this was enjoyable - and indeed it was a change from the normal cycle of life.

However (and you just know that there had to be an however coming up) it never once felt like a holiday. Each outing required the same mini packing nightmare of spare clothes, nappies, snacks, cameras etc, etc, etc. If we stayed at home, the theory was that our children would gaily entertain themselves while we lay in the sun reading books. As I said, that was the theory. But as any parent knows, lying down, reading books and actually relaxing simply doesn't happen when there are small children remotely close by. In fact, children seem to have a built in homing device that alerts them to a parent who is approaching a state of rest. It immediately triggers an activation switch which propels them towards the said resting parent to annoy them, like a swarm of wasps buzzing around your head.

Just as you finish applying your sun cream in comes the first request. 'I need to poo.' Shortly followed by 'I'm hungry.' 'I'm bored.' 'Come play with me.' 'Watch this.' 'Can I sit on you?' 'Yowl!' 'He hit me.' 'He hit me first.' 'I had it first......'. So you give up lying down and attempt to play cricket with children who are incapable of hitting a ball so stand there swinging a bat at the air repeatedly. Or you push them on a swing. Or watch them paddle in the ice cold paddling pool. None of which is awful. But it's not quite the same as lying on your big fat bum doing nothing in peace, is it?

Then there's the merry go round of thinking about food, buying food, making food, serving food, washing after eating the food - and repeat. There's laundy and tidying up. And when you holiday with other people, there's an unwritten rule that you all need to pull your weight, so you end up doing more than you might ordinarily do at home (our laundry pile at home for example can sit unwashed for weeks on end) because you want everyone to be happy.

And then there's the fighting. As a holiday wears on and the novelty of having new friends to play with wears off, the children look for any opportunity to have an argument (for that read: beat the bejesus out of each other). Breaking up fights is never a deeply joyous affair, but it gradually starts to affect the parents and the thorny issue of parenting techniques starts to peep over the parapet. Thanks to a change in routine, later bedtimes and more sugar than usual, the children's behaviour dissolves into Lord of the Flies badness with tantrums the order of the day, putting your parentings techniques even more firmly in the spotlight.

And so your relaxing holiday turns into a merry go round of chores, fun activities that the kids will enjoy but probably don't top your list of things you must do before you die, and parenting battles.

Of course in my case it wasn't helped by having my husband leave after the first week so that he could return to work, leaving me to cope with the beastie boys on my own. The return trip alone wiped out any de-stressing that might have taken place in the odd stolen moment.

So I got home not feeling well rested. In fact feeling fairly shattered and in need of another holiday of the BC variety. But that isn't going to happen for at least another 16 years at the earliest, at which point we'll be booking ourselves onto a SAGA cruise and I'll have traded in my bikini for a one of those fetching granny swimsuits with low cut legs, built in tummy constrainer and a matching floral swiming cap to stop my blue rinse running. Now there's something to look forward to.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Holiday packing. It's crap.

Tomorrow we go on holiday. Our first proper holiday for a long, long time. I should be wildly enthusiastic and champing at the bit to get away. However, there is a small issue that stands between me and that holiday feeling. Packing.

I have written a list of everything we need. Not just on a scrap of paper you understand, but in a shiny new duck egg blue notebook which I got free in a magazine. I started the list a while ago and add to it whenever I think of something else that is absolutely vital. The way the list currently stands, we are going to need a our very own personal ferry to cart all our crap to France. It's not like we're going to Mongolia, Sudan or the Amazon. We don't need survival gear. As far as I know France is a first world country. Yet I still feel compelled to take everything we own on the off chance we might need it.

I would start to rationalise and make cuts to the list, but I know that the minute I delete an item, it'll be that very item which becomes the holiday 'must have'. And as the mother, it will be my fault that it's not there.

I am way too weary to start packing now. But I feel I have done good prep work. Besides my trusty list, I've done copious amounts of laundry (all of which was wet through thanks to the sodding rain), and have attempted to dry most of it. I've done my ironing (first time in two months). I've charged the camera batteries. I've ordered and received our European Health Cards. I've got foreign currency and travel insurance. I've bought an in-car DVD player and new DVDs to entertain the kids. And I've remembered to add travel sick pills to my list. I've still got to buy food supplies and I've yet to get a pedicure or tummy tuck, but I don't think I'm going to manage to squeeze those in between now and tomorrow evening.

So I'm pretty well organised. I just can't be arsed to actually get all the stuff and shove it into bags. Also, much of it needs to be packed directly from the garage into the boot of the car. And packing the car is husband's job. In fact it is any man's job. They have to have this job for two reasons:

Firstly, they don't do anything else related to the holiday besides throw a few pairs of undies and a couple of shirts in a bag for themselves. They don't have to book accomodation or make travel arrangements. They don't have to work out dates that suit everybody. They don't have to make lists of what to pack. They don't need to pack enough clothes for children that will cover 5 peed in pants a day, rain, mud, sunshine or a potential blizzard and still get it into a teeny tiny bag. They don't have to come up with a cunning packing plan that ensures you have a bag with enough snacks, drinks, changes of clothes, nappies, toys, books, medicine and baby wipes for every leg of the journey. They don't need to do any of the above really. They simply have to arrive at the alloted departure time with their own bag of kit and a mutter about 'all this crap' that they have to heave into the car.

Secondly, men like packing car boots. They find it cathartic. It reminds them of the days when they were small boys and got to build towers out of wooden blocks and had to make sure they had just the right piece to fit into just the right hole. I'll readily admit that I am rubbish at packing cars. Men excel at it. That is until you have to open the boot and get the one thing you forgot to pack in the emergency day sack (like moo moo the toy cow), which results in much swearing, rolling of eyes, sighing and tutting as though they are thoroughly exhausted with having to do all this holiday malarkey and must their darned wife try their patience now?

So no, I'm not feeling thrilled at the prospect of going on holiday right this minute. I'm sure that once the car is packed, we've survived the overnight ferry crossing, the five hour car drive, found our destination, managed to cobble together a meal for starving children on the remaining car snacks, and I can sit down and enjoy a glass - make that a bottle - of French wine, I will be very happy to be away. But until then, I've got a bit of work to do.

So blog readers, I shall not be blogging until my return, no doubt armed with tales of how thanks to my perfect packing skills, the holiday was a dream (except for the part where I have to drive two boys across France on my own on the return as husband's leaving early to get back to work. Goody).

I do hope that it stops raining at some point otherwise we could well be returning to a flooded house, which might negate the relaxation afforded by the holiday.

Do wish me Bonne Chance!
Toodle pip

Saturday 9 August 2008

Being a parent should be an olympic sport. Well at the very least we should get a medal.

It's raining. Again. Despite being August. Sigh. I've had a long week. It's involved trying to stay calm with my ever-increasingly hyper children. And now it's the weekend. All I want to do is snuggle on the sofa and watch the Olympics. It's the only time I watch sport, so I feel that vegging in front of a TV once every four years isn't too much to ask.

The last time the Olympics were on, my eldest son was only about 5 months old and beastie 2 definitely hadn't been thought about. Back then, I didn't work. All I had to do was figure out how to stop a small, puking baby from crying all day long. I didn't even have to leave the house or get out of my jammies. So I got to watch lots of the Games at my leisure. How things have changed...

After lunch today I put the tv on to watch the swimming. Immediately there were demands for 'our tv' i.e. Cbeebies. I said no and tried to explain the importance of the Olympic Games. I'm afraid it was pearls before swine. So I took it down several notches and pointed out how the swimmer's goggles and bathing caps were similar to theirs, which caused a flutter of interest. I then tried to explain the different strokes that were appearing in the 400 metre medley. I was told to be quiet by older son because 'I know what they're doing, stop telling me.' So I gave up trying to educate them and just attempted to watch in peace.

That failed too.

My children wanted to play tennis. Outside. Right now. In the rain. I said they were welcome to but that I wouldn't be joining them and that they needed to wear raincoats. They refused on the raincoat point, so I sent them out into the downpour and said to crack on. Approximately 30 seconds later they were back dripping water all over the house saying: 'We've finished playing tennis.' Promptly followed by: 'We're bored.' And, 'We're hungry.' And 'Can we have a biscuit?'

I gave up watching and said I'd look on my computer to see what we can do this afternoon (and actually all I'm doing is writing this.)

Right at this moment they are watching the boxing. Physical violence is something they heartily enjoy. They've chosen who's backing the guy in red and who's got the blue. There are lots of shouts of 'Knock him down. Knock him down.' I feel as a responsible adult I should step in and explain that this is actually a sport and not something we do on a rainy day because we're bored. But that would mean having to make up my mind about what we're going to do this afternoon.

We could go to a softplay place, but the mere thought of a gazillion children bored out of their tiny minds being unleashed into ball pools filled with wee is enough to make me want to play tennis outside in the rain.

Too late. They've found me. And are now showing me their newly discovered boxing skills. And someone's crying. I need to intervene. Must go.

But before I do, I just want to make the point that no matter how hard those olympic athletes train, nothing will ever prepare them for the challenges they'll face when they become parents. And they'll have to deal with the fact that they'll never get a medal for their pains either. Sigh.

Thursday 7 August 2008

MISSING: One housekeeping halo

Despite having had no childcare for what is now the third day in a row, my inner calm is remaining in tact. This is largely because I've not tried to do anything other than be with my children. Sure I've rustled up the odd meal and put on the occasional load of washing, but really it's all been about them.

As a result, my mummy halo is starting to squish my head a bit and it's giving me a headache. I haven't had to raise my voice (well except for when the older beastie mistook his younger brother's head for a football and kicked it hard). I've also let household standards slip by some considerable margin. I'm ignoring congealed gloop on surfaces and the piles of loitering laundry. I did however finally wash our bed linen as it was about to start breeding small colonies of bed lice. Having remade the bed two nights ago with fresh smelling sheets, husband was perplexed last night when he found the bed in a completely unmade state.

'What happened to the bed?' he asked. 'The children happened to the bed,' I said. 'What? Did they pee in it?' he asked. 'No, they wanted to help me strip the bed having seen me do it the day before,' I replied. 'When did they do this?' he asked staring at the mounds of bedding on the floor. 'This morning,' I said. You could see his brain ticking over thinking, so this happened this morning and yet it's STILL all on the floor. Being a man who enjoys the use of all four of his limbs, he wasn't daft enough to actually say this out loud, but I could see that's what he wanted to say. So I explained that since they'd stripped the bed, we'd packed in:
  • getting dressed
  • eating breakfast
  • tidying away breakfast (sort of)
  • caught up on emails (me), built a space ship out of duplo (them)
  • gone on a playdate
  • rushed back for lunch that wasn't eaten
  • rushed to swimming lessons
  • got lost on our way from swimming lessons to the Thatcham Discovery Centre
  • had a bit of an altercation at the aforementioned centre as one wanted to feed ducks, the other wanted to play on the swings, I wanted them to clean their teeth in the public loos
  • rushed to the dentist for their first ever visit (dismal failure - they refused to sit on the chair or open their mouths despite mummy pretending that the chair was a spaceship and gamefully showing off her not very clean teeth for the dentist as she hadn't cleaned them in the public loos)
  • Raced home but had to find a petrol station en route as getting lost earlier had used up most of our tank of gas. Then older child said he needed to pee but there was no loo at the petrol station which resulted in quite a lot of debate about whether I was lying or not
  • Got home at normal supper time and still had to make a chilli con carne.
  • Played football/cricket/catch/trampoline bouncing/calvinball in a bid to distract the kids from their starving tummies
  • Forced food down their throats while they wanted to resume playing with their duplo airplane
  • Finally convinced younger child that he really does need a bath regardless of his protestations
  • And got them into bed.

Admittedly I did then have a full two hours in which to make the bed, but I felt like eating my dinner and watching a film instead. So while my mummy halo is shining to a sunglasses-required-shininess, my housekeeping halo has packed its bags and gone in search of Martha Stewart. The halo that makes up the trilogy - the one I normally wear when I don my business superwoman cape - seems to be gathering dust, the result of doing absolutely no work combined with my shoddy cleaning efforts.

So today we need to tackle a few chores. Including a trip to the shops. I'm not looking forward to it. I fear it might push my new found calm, rational mothering skills to breaking point, but we need a few things. Including cotton wool as last night I had to remove my mascara using a sanitary towel as it was the only suitable thing I could find. As I said, my housekeeping is in need of an overhaul.

Must go wipe a bottom now.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Children's TV characters you'd readily kill in a heartbeat

Thanks to Katyboo, who linked to a hilarious article by Caitlin Moran about which children's TV characters she'd shag, I was inspired to write my own kids' TV hitlist. And by hitlist, I mean a list of characters who I'd readily pay good money to have a contract killer put on their case. Here they are:

1. The Tweenies.
All of them. Particularly Jake. The faux baby voice sets my teeth on edge, not to mention his ridiculous yellow mohican. Honestly, if the Tweenies come on, the channel is flicked immediately. No hesitation. Do not pass go or collect £200. And my children cheer me on. They hate them too. Why on earth would anyone go watch the live Tweenies show? Are they gluttons for punishment?

2. Jelly and Jackson from the Storymakers
They should by rights be in joint first place with the Tweenies. I can't actually believe that somewhere in the world there is a grown up person who is able to speak in those inane voices. How can their partner (or indeed anyone) possibly take them seriously? And I really, really hope they never decide to talk dirty to each other using their story maker voices because that would just be skin-crawl-tastic.

3. Thomas the Tank Engine
I have nothing against the series. Think the stories are fab and the theme tune is a toe tapper, but good grief Thomas is an obnoxious little twat. Pompous, full of his own self importance, a complete twit most of the time churning milk into butter and chuffing off sidings. Now Percy, he's a REALLY USEFUL ENGINE. So Thomas, get over yourself. Just because the show's named after you doesn't make you the bees the knees.

4. The Little Princess
Firstly, your parents own a friggin castle. Get them to spend a bit of dough on your teeth. Secondly, you may be a princess but you are a brat of the highest order and if you came to stay at our house my new found inner peace parenting skills would be lobbed out of the window in favour of corporal punishment. So be warned and stay away.

5. Underground Ernie
Not his fault poor lad, but his cartoonists suck. He looks like an android who is likely to shoot tentacles out of his mouth at any moment and beam you back to planet zurg. Given where he works, it's quite possible it might happen too.

6. Makka Pakka from the Nightgarden
Is he (is it a he?) meant to be a maggot? Because that's what he looks like. An elderly maggot. A maggot with alzheimers. It's just not good. And why does that show have a hot air balloon that farts continually?

There are others too of course, like most of the presenters on Tikkabilla, all of the Fimbles cast (particularly that frog who must have been the inspiration for that annoying laughing frog mobile phone ringtone) and Rupert the Bear (he's just insipid and needs a bit of tough love).

In fact, I will be very glad when we can progress from Cbeebies to CBBC. But I fear there may be worse to come. Feel free to let me know which annoying characters you'd like to have put away and I'll put in a word to my contract killer.

Monday 4 August 2008

Lightbulb moments

I should not be blogging. I should be working frantically on what is one of my last days with childcare before September. But I'm in a weird place. Sort of a waiting-to-go-on-holiday-so-can't-be-arsed-to-start-anything-new-and-wrapping-up-lose-ends-is-all-too-dull type of place.

So instead I will tell you about a few lightbulb moments I had this weekend:

Lightbulb moment 1: The power of cardboard boxes
This isn't really a lightbulb moment because I've known this for some time. But this weekend I was reminded once again that children really DO NOT NEED TOYS. All they need is the empty box that contained nine bottles of wine from the Sunday Times Wine Club (a little present for mummy and daddy). Take the outer and inner boxes and stick them together with sticky tape in the shape of a robot. Get 'the drawing box' (you know the one with a million pens / crayons / pencils where none of the pens have lids so they're dried out and the crayons are all broken in half and the pencils don't have a point and need to be sharpened but only half the sharpener is there?). Every home with children has one of these. It's the law.

If possible, find some glue that hasn't hardened completely and pull out any other miscellaneous bits of craft stuff you may have on hand. Let the children decorate the robot to their hearts content. Do not feel that you have to correct their art in any way. If they want the robot to have its mouth above its eyes, that's fine. If they think it should wear a pink feather boa, that's fine too. Do not worry that they are using up all the craft stuff. At least it won't be sitting in your toy cupboard anymore. Do join in. It is very cathartic rubbing crayons over corrugated card making patterns. And there you go, one rainy morning filled.

Lightbulb moment 2: It is possible to reason with a 4 year old
I know that in previous posts I might have made the odd comment about my 4 year old being a little difficult. But thanks to the book I'm reading telling me how to be a good parent, I've tried a new approach. I've given my son the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. I reason with him and I try to say yes as much as I can. This might sound easy. It's not. However, I had the perfect opportunity to put these principles into practice on Saturday afternoon. I wanted an afternoon of 'me time' involving some retail therapy. My son wanted to join me. Shopping with a 4 year old boy. Yes, I can see the relaxing enjoyment that would afford. Not.

I tried to dissuade him. He was having none of it. So I explained exactly what would be happening on the shopping trip, how there wouldn't be nagging or whining or shopping for toys. And that if he was prepared to come along on those terms, he could come. He agreed to the terms of my deal. So off we went. And although it wasn't quite the same as browsing on my own, it was a remarkably pleasant afternoon. He was as good as his word. He didn't nag - much (although he did seem to think there might be something for him in every store we went to). He was a savvy shopping assistant, helping me select clothes ('definitely not the purple mummy, I like the green'). We used the time to learn about how to pay for things. And we even celebrated our shopping success with a coffee in a cafe (well I had coffee, he had a smoothie). So it just goes to show that little boys can be reasoned with. And if you train them young enough, they will become dutiful husbands who help their wives shop at some point in the future.

Lightbulb moment number 3: Children can pick winning horses
A long Sunday, working husband, two small boys, what to do? Well we went off to the Newbury Racecourse to watch horse racing. Not a typical thing to do with children under the age of five, but I thought they'd enjoy seeing the horses and we'd get to have a picnic and I promised them a bounce on the bouncy castle that had been advertised. Turns out that they weren't bothered about the picnic or bouncy castle, and weren't even that concerned about seeing the horses per se. But sitting at the parade ring while studying the race guide was a hit. They chose their favourites by what the jockeys were wearing. Stars were tops faves. As was the number 10 for son number 2. They also occasionally looked up at the horses and would choose a horse if it had a star shaved onto it's backside. Using this winning formula, we would go watch the races. Son number 2 was hilarious standing there with the punters, yelling 'C'mon number 10, c'mon'. Son number one covered his ears and cried when it got too loud. But it was uncanny how often they picked winners. Damn shame I didn't place any bets. Next time I'm in need of cash, I'll be heading off down to the races with my kids to pick my winners for me. Nothing like giving them a head start in the art of gambling.

Lightbulb moment 4: A new business idea...
During the aforementioned shopping trip, I bought my son a foam cricket bat and ball. We were actually after tennis raquets but there you go. We returned home and I immediately had the rest of my day lined up in the form of throwing a ball to older son who would miss it and sulk while younger son would pick up the ball and run away and hide it, resulting in older brother hitting him with the foam bat. But we finally got into our stride. Son 1 hit the ball. Son 2 fielded the ball. I bowled the ball. We all had so much fun I suggested to son 1 that we find him some mini cricket lessons. So I looked on the interweb. And, in this great country of England, home of cricket, losers of many, many Ashes series, there is no such thing as cricket training for tots. I am going to investigate this. And might even do something about it. Although given I know absolutely diddly about cricket, it might not be a massive success, but there's the germ of an idea there. Watch this space....

I'm sure I had other lightbulb moments but they seem to have burnt themselves out. But that's a good start. I really must now do some work.

Toodle pip